Clavisimbalum following RCM’s Clavicytherium


8' FGA-a''

492 Hz

Gregor Bergmann 2015


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Live recording

Multipliciter/Letificat/Favore anonym, Codex Chantilly, around 1400

Veit-Jacob Walter, please click here

Freye Fantasie

When building a clavisimbalum, the modern builder is faced with an interesting problem:  there are no originals to study and work from. Iconographical and written sources offer some guidance and the music of the period help to determine the compass of the keyboard. But still, this is not much to go on. Considering how much different copies of the same extant original (clavichords, harpsichords) by modern builders vary, the undertaking cannot be more than an educated guess.

Being novices in this field, we sought guidance from the Clavicytherium in the Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments, London (Ulm?, 1480?). It is considered to be the oldest surviving stringed keyboard instrument and probably a good teacher we thought. However, when embarking on a project like this, one must also take into account the best known written source on this subject, Arnault de Zwolle's famous manuscript preserved in the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris (1440).

Instead of trying to recreate an early clavisimbalum from iconographical and written evidence, we aimed for a late, highly sophisticated instrument, applying information from the clavicytherium as well. Even though this line of thinking affects every aspect of the instrument I would like to point out only two features:  the soundboard barring and the plucking mechanism.

The plucking mechanism is always of interest in a clavisimbalum owing to Arnault de Zwolle's ambiguous sketches in his manuscript. In our clavisimbalum we chose a mechanism like the one in the clavicytherium, jacks with tongues and plectra firmly connected to the keylever. Arnault is much more straightforward and clear about the soundboard barring but again we followed the clavicytherium's interesting layout. The clavicytherium's soundboard does not extend over the whole area, but is much more like a harp in that respect. Our soundboard uses a cut-off bar to imitate that acoustical shape, even though the soundboard covers the whole area, to create a much larger cavity than the clavicytherium has.

The case is made of figured maple, wrestplank and jacks of walnut as are the keys which are covered with boxwood and bog oak.